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    Entries by Ben Simpson (513)

    Monday
    Feb272017

    A New Resource for the Lenten Season

    Back in December I signed on with First Methodist Church of Mansfield, Texas to develop a series of Lenten devotional readings that would progress through the Gospel of Luke. Lent begins this Wednesday, March 1. My writings will be featured at First Mansfield's Daily First 15. If you would like to receive the readings in your email inbox you can visit their website and sign up by clicking "subscribe" in the upper right hand corner.

    It has been a pleasure to work with the team at First Mansfield, particularly with Pastor David Alexander. Pastor David has a passion for the local church, for teaching the Scriptures, and for evangelism. It has been good to speak and correspond with him about how best to serve his congregation. Our mutual aim has been for the people of God to be equipped with the knowledge necessary to live faithfully to Jesus.

    Pastor David invited me to join his team in January to film a couple of videos for Mansfield's Lenten sermon series and to speak a little about the devotional series and a small group resource that we developed in tandem. Here is the first video:

    Ben Talks about Super Series from First Methodist Mansfield on Vimeo.

    After working with Mansfield in the fall, Pastor David and his team discovered that people wanted to know who I was, and in an effort to help make a connection, we filmed a second video where I shared a little about my family and vocation:

    Meet Ben from First Methodist Mansfield on Vimeo.

    Many thanks to Pastor David and his team for granting me the opportunity to serve Christ alongside them as a partner in ministry.

    If you have enjoyed reading my stuff and are looking for a resource to help you grow during the Lenten season, I encourage you to visit First Mansfield and sign up for the Daily First 15.

    Through Luke, I hope you meet Jesus, know him a bit better, and follow him in daily life.

    Sunday
    Feb262017

    Living Skillfully

    The King James Version of the Bible still has its uses. In Proverbs 4:7 we read, "Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding."

    Eugene Peterson writes, "Wisdom is the art of living skillfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves."

    To get wisdom we must first concede that we do not have it. The teachable heart is a prepared field for the seeds of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. This is horrendous English, but: with whatever getting you got, get wisdom. Once you have it, live a life of skill. Be an exceedingly sagacious engineer, brewmaster, or civil servant. Play the piano with all your might. Raise up students who will surpass you.

    Do not long for others to look upon you and say, "That person is wise." Rather, hope for this awe-filled whisper: "They are a blessing."

    Thursday
    Feb232017

    Picking Henbit

    It is late February in Central Texas and spring has arrived. A mild winter and warmer weather have sped along new growth, not only of green grass and budding bushes, but of weeds. Yard work begins.

    Over the past few weeks I have peered out my back window and observed my yard being overtaken by clover, chickweed, and henbit. I ignored these weeds as long as I could. These invasive weeds lack strong roots, but tend to emerge and overtake the St. Augustine grass I would like to see flourish. The weeds spread their leaves over the top of the lawn, blocking the sunlight my grass needs to thrive. Without an intervention the underlying grasses will wither and die.

    During the past two days I have been at work, pulling up the weeds. Cultivating a garden and tending the soul are close cousins. As I have yanked, gathered, and disposed of these unwelcome invaders, I have reflected upon the spiritual life.

    As in the emergence of an invasive weed, it is often true that we do not always cultivate those things that crowd out the good growth we desire in our own lives. They just take root and begin to grow. We passively let them emerge and unfold. We pause, reflect, and observe the beginnings of something that we know is a problem and could later become an epidemic, yet we delay action. We wait. Or we become consumed by our commitments and the cares of life, even while knowing that the best time to yank a weed is before it goes to seed. 

    Good growth takes tending. It takes attention. And it requires routine. In the spiritual life, we gather with the saints. We cultivate friendships that offer wisdom, accountability, encouragement, and challenge. We spend time reading the Bible, and we abide by the law of love in our quest to be found faithful to the Word. We pray, daily, and listen to the Lord. We worship God. These habits draw our attention to the voice of the God who speaks, who draws our attention to that clover over yonder, or that henbit right there, which, left alone and untended, may eventually occlude the Light that is Christ. 

    Tend your yard, yes, and may it flourish. Better yet, tend your life.

    Friday
    Feb172017

    Baylor Sanctuary Movement Appeals to a Higher Law

    The following was written in response to an opinion column in last Saturday's Waco Tribune-Herald. I argue that a healthy society maintains room for dissent, disagreement, and ongoing political discourse concerning what constitutes a good law and can do so while upholding the Rule of Law. I also contend Christians have a moral obligation to act upon principle and under conscience when certain laws are determined to be unjust.

    Discerning How Best to Abide by the Bible
     

    In France during the 1940s, the citizens of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon risked their lives to harbor Jews who were sought by Nazi patrols and collaborators of the Vichy regime. The citizens of Le Chambon were Protestant Huguenots, led by Pastor André Trocmé and his deputy pastor Edouard Theis. The people of Le Chambon obtained forged identification and ration cards and helped the Jews cross the border to neutral Switzerland. By choosing to resist an unjust law they saved as many as one thousand lives.

    They did not head to the voting booth. Rather, they acted according to conscience and principled beliefs. Their decision was rooted in Christian conviction. Knowing the law of the land, they chose noncompliance and instead appealed to the will of God. They were also willing to accept the consequences if discovered by the state. Rev. Trocmé spoke publicly against the Nazis and was arrested. Daniel Trocmé, Rev. Trocmé’s cousin, was murdered at Maidanek concentration camp. 

    In a February 11, 2017 column, “Baylor Sanctuary Movement Ignores Rule of Law,” Jay Young argues Baylor University should reject a sanctuary campus petition. He asserts, “An individual must do what the law says and must not do what it says not to do.” I disagree. 

    His argument hinges on a particular understanding of the Rule of Law. Mr. Young represents the Rule of Law as a principle stating “that governance of a community is dictated by mandates from the state.” Mr. Young argues that this principle necessitates that the citizenry obey the law. But the Rule of Law does not require this, and instead is a political philosophy wherein a society is subject to law rather than the dictates and whims of a ruler. It does not necessitate obedience. A free democratic order should maintain space for protest and civil disobedience while holding those who protest accountable to existing laws. Human beings propose and adopt the laws; therefore, not every law will be good.

    In no way does the sanctuary campus petition deny the Rule of Law. Instead, the petition calls for noncompliance and direct political action challenging the legitimacy of legislation such as House Bill 12 or any federal law that could effect refugees, migrants, or international visitors. The petition does not “pick and choose” which passages of the Bible to abide by, but instead expresses an overall hermeneutic that seeks justice for the vulnerable. The petition asks the University to consider all implications of these laws for refugees, migrants, and international visitors who are part of the University community. It also asks that Baylor University respond publicly and with boldness. 

    Those signing the petition express concern, believing recent federal and state legislative actions to be unjust. The First Amendment of the United States Constitution supports the petitioners’ right to assert their view and to draw upon their religious beliefs as a basis for their convictions.

    The sanctuary campus petition is not calling for arbitrary action on behalf of Baylor University and its leadership. Rather, the petition calls for principled action firmly set upon the twin pillars of reasoned conviction and deep faith. To suggest otherwise is uncharitable.

    The United States is a nation of laws. Our laws grant certain rights, including the right to free speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of religious expression. I thank God for those rights. But I do not believe all our laws have always reflected perfect justice. I give thanks for those of Christian conviction who have resisted those laws, been held accountable, and pushed us toward legislative change. The life and witness of Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind.

    I strongly urge President David Garland and the rest of the Baylor administration to regard the petition as a courageous and thoughtful display of Christian witness and to consider this appeal carefully in determining the best course for the University moving forward. 

    In the event the University deems any law unjust it is my hope the leaders would abide foremost by a higher law and do everything in their power to resist and reform the laws of this nation so that we might become a more perfect union. As Peter and the other apostles put it succinctly in Acts 5:29, “We must obey God rather than human beings!”

    Tuesday
    Feb142017

    Being the Best [ ______ ] You Can Be

    It is a challenging time to be a Christian. Has it ever been otherwise?

    I am not sure. It is a question I ask often. I do know that my experience of Christianity during adulthood has been engulfed by anxiety about the future. The United States has undergone an undeniable shift in the religious landscape. The old norms no longer apply, and new ways are sought in the face of these changes. Various proposals have been made with regard to the best way forward. There has also been a great deal of lament, and no shortage of hand-wringing.

    There are many traditions within Christianity. How do they help us to respond? Most traditions have developed distinctives that can present themselves as strengths when properly regarded. Yet the majority of the resources Christianity offers for abundant and faithful living are shared across traditions. Taken together, the unique bits and the shared bits, the storehouse is quite full.

    Alan Jacobs did a little riffing yesterday on thoughts from Rod Dreher, who is writing a book about a "genuinely countercultural form of Christianity." Mr. Dreher's proposal has become known as the "Benedict Option." Mr. Dreher is approaching an old challenge in an old way, though in a new time. The call to reject the norms of the present age and wholeheartedly seek the life of the kingdom is an ancient one. The fresh difficulty is found in being faithful to that calling in light of present circumstances. Dreher recently asked whether each tradition had the resources necessary to live a countercultural form of Christianity. Jacobs picked up the ball and ran.

    Professor Jacobs spurred my thinking about my own tradition, or traditions. I am a Baptist. Molly, my wife, is a Methodist. We are now part of a Methodist congregation. As we have each served in our traditions, we have always sought to equip our congregations with the knowledge to live faithfully within those traditions. We believe the traditions possess a kind of strength, and that they are worthwhile. We have wanted our people to be found faithful as Methodists, or Baptists. We have desired that they know their traditions, appreciate their heritage, and can rely on the tradition to help them live faithfully to Jesus.

    However, based on my observation, that has not always been enough to inspire a countercultural, robust expression of Christian faith. Something has been missing.

    This is where I found Jacobs helpful. He argues that you must find a point where you can no longer be content with life as you know it as a Christian. The old word here, I would suggest, is zeal. He writes:

    You have to get to the end of your rope, you have to come to the point where you can’t live any longer as everyone around you is living. If you come to that point, then every serious Christian tradition, from Pentecostalism to Orthodoxy, has what it takes to nourish and support you. But none of those traditions can, in itself, bring you to that point. (I am not yet at that point myself: I am too caught up in the various rewards that this present age has to offer.)

    Depending on where you live, you might look around you and find charismatics who are faithfully seeking to make their own countercultural way, or Baptists, or Presbyterians, or Catholics — heck, even Anglicans. It depends on whether in a given place there is a critical mass of people whom the Holy Spirit has moved to say: Enough. Lord, now give us the living water.

    The traditions of Christianity are of great value. They help to preserve theological and moral knowledge and the wisdom captured in certain forms of praxis. But the tradition is not enough. The traditions are like containers, which we must pray that God not only fill but overflow by the pouring out of the Holy Spirit.

    It may be a helpful step to be the best Methodist or non-denominational Christian or whatever you can be. But becoming the best disciple of Jesus may be the only place where a countercultural Christianity can begin to take shape, one allowing for the prophetic challenge of one's own tradition, while also stretching outward to those of other traditions, binding and bringing the church together as one, just as Christ intended.